Toortitzi cu sare- Romania

For your consideration- Another Romanian pretzel product. These are salt-flavoured pretzel chips. They are very similar to Pretzel chip products in the US, although I didn’t see any flavours like “buffalo wing” or “buttermilk ranch” in Romania (both of which are awesome BTW). There was another version in the vending machine that seemed to include garlic and/or onions, but I couldn’t really be sure. I can’t pretend to read Romanian from a distance.

Romanian is an interesting language, y’all. It’s strongly based on Latin, but sometimes it looks Turkish, likely due to the proximity to Turkey and um, the Ottoman Empire’s control of the area for hundreds of years. Count Vlad was pretty pissed about that, which is how the Dracula stories started. I probably learned that from the IMDB page for that Relatable Dracula movie that came out a few years ago.

Speaking of the Ottomans, I went to a restaurant for lunch that offered a dish named “Turkey Snitzel, Sultan’s Sinful Delight”. Turns out it was just snitzel not a euphemism. The menu also included several polenta-based dishes, which surprised me because I associate that with Italy. People often associate Romania with Eastern Europe but one must be reminded that it’s actually quite Southern.

Everyone I encountered spoke English, although they initially spoke to me in Romanian. I want to give myself a little pat on the back every time that happens in a foreign country because I think it means I’ve blended in. I still remember the first time a French person asked me for directions in Paris. I said “mais oui, le parking garage est a le gauche. D’accord?” Just like a native.

P.S. shortly after I wrote this, a woman standing in the aisle of the plane tapped my shoulder and looked at me and said a bunch of stuff in Romanian that may have ended in “rasa”. I responded by mumbling “ok”. Her intensity signalled that she was either apologising for something I didn’t notice or letting me in on a prophecy. I guess I’ll never know!

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Covrigeii Casei- Romanian Pretzels

I recently look a little trip to Bucharest, Romania. I didn’t have time to hit up a local corner store, so I had to make do with whatever snacky snacks were available at the airport. Interestingly, the terminal housed a number of small shops to buy periodicals, but none of these sold any snacks or sundries, unlike American airport shops where you can buy every flavor of Combos, a NASCAR-themed neck pillow, and a book on leadership lessons from Lord Voldemort.

At the Bucharest airport shops, you can buy a wide range of magazines or a book about Dracula or Stalin but don’t you go trying to find refreshments.

Given that the airport shops encourage actual reading of books and literary magazines, if you want a little processed nosherei, you can pick your poison from a vending machine:

Note that none of the savoury snacks are actually very naughty. The selection basically consists of distant relatives of the pretzel family.

I assumed these were olive crackers based on the package, although upon further inspection, the English translation says that these are pretzels with olives. I’m not sure I’d describe them as pretzels because they don’t really have a pretzel’s characteristic contrast between the interior and the exterior, but I’m not going to push it on their choice of translation.

My first impression was that I’d love to try to make these myself as an appetizer. Let me rephrase that- I’d love to try to make these as an appetizer for guests, and then taste them, decide that they’re too dry, and spend 30 minutes apologizing about it.

They’re not quiiiiite as olivey as I’d like. I can taste a slight pickled savoury flavor but it could be stronger. The wheat flour taste needs to be better balanced. However, I will concede that this is only my opinion and I could understand if others prefer a more subtle olive taste. Not everyone has my taste for pickles. Most people can buy pickles and eat them over a period of say, a week, rather than, oh I don’t know, 24 hours (*cough, twelve, cough*).

All in all, 8 out of 10 would eat again. May try to make my own- will report on success of said venture.

Rancheros

Dear Readers, I know I continue to promise more blogging and then I don’t deliver. I think I have to accept that my resources are too limited for that. And by resources I mean time and space left between my body and my pants. My junk food is piling up in the pantry, because I’m still committed to my mission of profiling the world’s snacks, but I’m a little slow on the actual profiling part.

For tonight’s instalment, I pulled some Rancheros from the back of the cabinet. These are from Ireland, which is totally full of cowboys. Actually, this is the most cowboy-adjacent thing I saw in Ireland:

Rancheros are bacon flavored, and resemble pork rinds without actually consisting of pork. They do include bacon flavour, which is basically yeast. I would include a picture of the ingredients list but my dog ate the package.

Upon first bite, the texture is pleasant and the taste is a combination of savoury and malty sweetness. Then the MSG kicks in, and what started as “meh” turns into “meh…but I will eat all of these right now.” MSG is the ultimate food enabler, like if Jiminy Cricket could help you open a Pringles container.

This taste aphrodisiac was not lost on le dog, who legit stole the first Ranchero from my hands while I was trying to take a picture of it. After that it was non-stop licking of chomps and belligerent darting back and forth as I moved the package away from her. Instead of disciplining her, I laughed and dramatically dropped the bag on the ground (she had to think she had really earned it- that’s part of good parenting). Then I helped her get her snout inside the empty bag because it was hard to watch her try to eat crumbs from the outside of the bag. Wait a second…what if I’m the enabler- what if I’m Junkity Cricket? She learned it from watching meeee!

Lay’s Classic Burger Flavor Chips

Lay's Classic Burger

Lay’s Classic Burger Flavor chips are actually the Wonka Gum of chips (in contrast to the Bolognese Hula Hoops). I don’t know what sorcery produced them, but they taste exactly like McDonald’s cheeseburgers.  I think they took the pickle-flavored chip, which Belgium does very well, and added mustard and celery (according to the ingredients list) to somehow replicate the first bite of a McDonald’s burger (provided that the pickle isn’t hanging off the side of the burger like Jack on that door in the Atlantic- THERE WAS ROOM).  Lay’s chose not to include a strong smoky flavor, like many of the meat-flavored chips use to reproduce meat flavor. The chips work well without the smoke.

When I bought these, I saw two women buying large bags for themselves. I understand why now.  I imagine that if you crushed these and put them on an actual burger, biting into the burger might create a junk food worm hole. Maybe these chips are like McDonald’s spooky action at a distance. Although usually I’d refer to McDonald’s spooky action at a distance as my ability to actually gain weight while simultaneously eating McNuggets. (“Whaaaa? Why don’t my pants fit? Must be physics…there are so many things we’ll never understand about the universe!” *blithely walks into KFC while looking at workout videos on Instagram*).

Croky Hula Hoops- Bolognese flavor

Well, dear readers, it’s been too long, so….I’m bringing blogging back.

I’ve actually developed a stash of unhealthy foreign snacks, some with names I don’t understand (Flemish- what a language. It’s like the Magic Eye of languages- if you stare at it long enough you start to see words you’re familiar with).  I’m going to renew my public service describing this cornucopia of junk. Junkucopia.

My next two posts will review junk foods designed to taste like distinct dishes (a la Wonka gum). First up are these “Bolognese” flavored Hula Hoops made by Croky in Belgium.  Belgium is home to a diverse array of uniquely flavored snacks. You can choose from pickle-flavored chips, good ‘ol continental paprika chips, Cheetos and Doritos in unfamiliar shapes, and whatever these are (review forthcoming).

(Doesn’t that parrot remind you of Christopher Walken as The Continental?)

The obvious first question is whether these hoops actually tasted like Bolognese sauce.  Would a weary traveler looking forward to room service spaghetti find these as comforting?  The answer is no.  They’re weirdly smoky and remind me more of paprika chips than Bolognese. However, I should note that the definition of “Bolognese” has been a subject of some debate in the UK as of late.

According to the trash news Apple puts at the bottom of my work phone news feed, Mary Berry (not to be confused with Marion Barry), recommended that Bolognese could be prepared with “shocking” ingredients like cream. Considering that English grocery stores think heavy cream is the second ingredient behind avocados in guacamole, I find this complaining a bit…rich.  I reviewed this controversial recipe, and it looked delicious. I understand that Italian chefs want to maintain the purity of their traditional dishes, but I also support the integration of other ingredients. I wonder how these outraged chefs would react to the Olive Garden’s menu, developed at the Tuscan Institute – progenitor of such innovations as Lasagna Fritta and Crispy Risotto Bites (pictured below).  I’m all for preserving cultural heritage, but I can’t lie and pretend that I don’t also enjoy faux Italian food.  I also make nachos with a roux. Don’t judge me.

Olive Garden

p.s. I miss you, Olive Garden, you and your unlimited salad and breadsticks.

Tayto Waffles- Bacon Flavor

tayto

In honor of the pig farmer convention responsible for a lack of hotel rooms in Dublin, I’m trying some new pork flavored snacks fresh from the Emerald Isle.  Despite assurances that no one in Ireland actually calls it that, I can tell you that Ireland really is an Emerald Isle.  It’s vividly green- if I were choosing Irish green on PowerPoint I’d look for the richest, brightest green and then choose whichever green is even more vivid than that.  Luckily, my praise today is not just reserved for Ireland’s glistening green, but also for these bacon flavored Tayto Waffles.

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(What’s with all the ink on my hand?  These pictures are giant because I’m too tired to fix the size- so please enjoy this close-up of my cuticle.)

The team at Tayto really nailed the perfect texture- it’s grand, as they do actually say in Ireland. Not too dense, not too airy and fragile, not so scratchy that they hurt your mouth (this is a recurring issue for me). They deliver a very satisfying crunch and are the size of flattish lacrosse nets designed to just cover your tongue.  I can’t believe I just referenced lacrosse in that context, but it’s really the best way to describe them…and I feel super cool bringing up lacrosse, as if I worked at Abercrombie and Fitch in 2002.  

Like many meat flavored carbs, the suggestion of bacon is strongest in the scent. Otherwise these are kind of bacony, and very savoury.  The aftertaste doesn’t overstay its welcome. They’re very good, and I’d eat them again. 

Brannigans Roast Beef & Mustard

I’ve developed a bit of a reputation as a junk food hoarder at work.  I “joke” that my drawer full of snacks- which includes regular Lays, Combos, and the oh-so-delicious birthday cake flavored Oreos– will come in handy when we can’t leave the office because of an emergency and we have to ration food.  LULZ!

Fortunately, my colleagues seem pretty supportive of my junk habit (maybe because of all the rationing jokes- they’re trying to curry favor ahead of time).  Some have even graciously contributed to the drawer.  My colleague John, for example, gave me a bag of Brannigans Roast Beef & Mustard crisps.

Branigans

I like these a lot- I don’t think I’ve had any chips like this in ‘Murica (although I have tried pretzel snacks like this).  The mustard flavor is strong, like horseradish, but not so strong that your nose is assaulted.  I’m not actually sure if I taste roast beef, but they’re still really good.  Not every British beef-flavored carbohydrate experiment is going to pan out.  Sometimes failure leads to something better- like penicillin, or Viagra.

Branigans2(I don’t make her pose like this.  This just happens.)

Most of the time, I’m fixated on getting American snacks here, like my beloved Combos.  I would take these back to the homeland though, because I think my parentals would enjoy them.  I often bring them European mustard, because that’s a normal thing to do.  Maybe we could eat these chips with hot dogs on the Fourth of July.  AMERICA!

Takis Crunchy Fajitas (cumpleaños del padre edición)

 

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(to NB, with love- your canine granddaughter, demonstrating an inherited interest in junk)

Es el birthday de mi padre, so I thought it would be appropriate to review one of the savory snacks he gave me during my last visit to the homestead.  I’d never heard of Takis brand before, but I suspect that’s because of my lack of familiarity with Latin American snacks. These snacks are made by Barcel, a unit of the Mexican multinational company Grupo Bimbo, which I like to pronounce like a Spanish Olympics announcer (or a soccer announcer).  I would like to thank mi padre por todas las snacks deliciosas.  Espero que tenga un feliz cumpleaños!

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Now let’s talk turkey about taste- except these do not taste anything like turkey.   These little tortilla tubes are saturated in one of my favorite flavors- chili and lime.

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(This little lady is certainly excited about snacks…am I talking about myself or the dog? hmmm)

Takis snacks are masa flour-based, which gives them an authentic Latin American flavor. They’re just spicy enough to burn the back of your throat, but not so spicy that you hurt your tongue or start screaming for milk.  MSG is in the ingredient list, so even though your mouth has been slightly assaulted by chili and citrus, you keep eating them because you are COMPELLED to do so by your taste buds.  I like these snacks, but I think I might prefer some lighter (i.e. less dense) chili/lime snacks, like the HEB hijole cheese balls.

In contrast to these authentic-ish Latin American tortilla rolls, I also ate some Belgian Doritos-brand nacho cheese dip this evening.  What do you call cheese that isn’t yours? NACHO CHEESE!  This nacho cheese was almost not mine, because I almost left it under my seat on the Eurostar train.

After my colleague gently teased me about rolling up to the train with an excess of bags, which I shoved into my suitcase like a Russian nesting doll, I thought “wait a second- I actually had one more bag, and it contains 23 Euros worth of junk purchased at the train station.”  At that point I abruptly left my colleagues (and boss, because I’m a classy professional) and ran back to the train to retrieve my snacks.  I’m lucky that jumping back into the train didn’t cause an incident.  In the U.S., it may have been a “see something, say something” situation.  I can imagine it now. “Yeah officer, I saw this woman in business attire with several bags force herself back on the train at the station….yeah officer, she picked up a bag, I’m pretty sure I saw some Doritos in there. But something else definitely looked like glass- like a yellow substance….no, no color I’ve ever seen in nature. I don’t really know what it was, to be honest…but there seemed to be a lot of it.”

 

Southern Recipe (?) Cheesy Jalapeno Flavored Curls

Well, there’s no way around it.  I have to admit that I’ve neglected my blog. Nay, I’ve neglected my passion for junk.  My steady diet of kale and blueberry smoothies, moderately healthy lunches, and reasonable-ish dinners needs to be shaken up.  In the words of a bunch of randos on twitter circa 2013- YOLO.

So what jostled me awake and out of my junk food hibernation? What preservative-laden ambrosia tickled my taste buds?  The answer is “Southern Recipe Cheesy Jalapeno Flavored Curls.”  The question mark in the title alludes to my uncertainty as to whether Southern Recipe was the brand name or a qualifier.  I’ve since realized it’s a brand name, but I’m keeping the question mark, mostly because I was pretty excited about the prospect of these being Southern, maybe because I thought they’d be extra fried or something.*

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It’s a little like ET. In honor of the water on Mars.

While they’re not extra fried, they are extra delicious.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I love unique cheese curl varieties.  These cheese curls make me want to run to the border…of the United Kingdom…to take a flight to Mexico.  These curls are coated with flecks of jalapeno (and an uncertain amount of MSG, the molecular equivalent of falling into a basket of freshly washed microfiber blankets…if those blankets were also made of cheese and in your mouth).  The bit of green pepper spice, paired with sticky cheddar dust, takes these cheese curls out of the plain ‘ol cheesy poof category and into the hallowed space occupied by H-E-B Hijole cheese balls and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.  I won’t try to pick a winner in that bout; the textures of each are too different.  Maybe one day I’ll create a March Madness style junk food tournament.  In the meantime, I’m just glad to be back in the game.

*By the way, I noticed on the “Southern Recipe” home page that their slogan is “For Men Who Work Hard and Snack Harder.”  I liked these cheese curls; they were awesome.  I’m a lady.  Also, I’ve tasted harder snacks.

giphy snow white

Brownie Filled Pretzel Nuggets

brownie filled pretzel nuggets

I’ve been getting a lot of requests/demands/exhortations to write reviews on sweets- ranging from candy to cookies and every teeth-rotter in between. I hadn’t complied because I felt that the world of savory snacks is wide and offers almost limitless choices. I’ve recently changed my mind, because I’ve realized that sometimes salty and sweet is a great combination (said every girl who’s ever thought “I want, like, a bad boy who sends his mom flowers every week and always texts me back”).

My first foray into the world of sweets is CVS’s Brownie Filled Pretzel Nuggets. Truth be told, I went to CVS looking for their Peanut Butter Filled Pretzel Nuggets, but CVS only offered them in very large quantities- perhaps because they’re so delicious that people just go ahead and buy them in bulk. Given that I was traveling, and didn’t want to haul around a pound of peanut butter pretzel nuggets, I opted for the bag of brownie nuggets.

I enjoyed the brownie nuggets- the brownie filling was rich and the pretzels were sufficiently salty (although they could be a tiiiiny bit saltier). My only qualm is that I tasted a bit too much flour- more so than a regular pretzel. The exterior of the pretzel is normal and salty, and the excessive flour flavor seems to come from the interior layer- the mantle of the nugget, if you will. The concept is promising, so maybe I’ll look for better brownie pretzel nuggets, if they exist. I can close my eyes and imagine a really rich bit of brownie, with tiny bits of gooey chocolate, covered in a salty pretzel. Like the reformed bad boy, or the Mr. Darcy of pretzels.